Thursday, 27 December 2012

Addicted to decluttering...

Recently I've been overwhelmed by an urge to get rid of a lot of my belongings. It started a month ago, when I found myself with a free evening. I started sorting through some clothes, ruthlessly rooting out the clothes that I realised I wasn't going to wear again. I offered them to some friends, and whatever was left went to the charity shop. Then old hats/scarves/gloves that I'd had sitting in a drawer for ages and had no need for. At this point, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself for having got rid of a few boxes/bags worth of stuff.

But instead of stopping there, I continued. 75% of my DVDs went, sold for a quid each to some friends. Then I went through my book collection again, removing a further half to get rid of and sell. Suddenly, where I'd previously seen just stuff, I started seeing things I didn't need any longer. A couple of lomo cameras I didn't use any longer, some kitchen stuff I never used, textbooks I didn't use, board games, cookbooks - nothing was safe from the decluttering mania.

Initially it made my room look a lot messier (piles of stuff, everywhere) but it's now settling down as people come and collect what they've claimed. I've managed to sell quite a lot of stuff (turns out selling a dvd for a quid doesn't sound like much, but when you're selling 40 of them, it adds up quite quickly), and made over £150 so far. The rest I've just given away or taken to a charity shop - so far nothing has gone in the bin.

I think I've just suddenly realised that it's all replaceable. If I want to watch a dvd I've got rid of, I'll borrow it from the video shop or a friend. If I want to re-read a book, I can get it from a library. But generally if I've not used something in the last year, I most likely won't want to use it any time soon. I've also realised that my interests and tastes change. It's part of who I am. I get enthusiastic about hobbies - some stick around for good, others pass on by (like my lomography obsession) and I move on to new things. There's no point in living surrounded by the stuff from my past.

I've still got a long way to go (I still have a fair amount of stuff...), but I'm getting there. And instead of feeling a sense of loss about letting things go, I'm getting a real kick out of it...

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The clothes off my back...

Clothes are a bit of a problem issue for me. I'm not exactly a skinny girl and clothes buying is already a challenging process, so the idea of restricting this further isn't the most welcome thought. On the plus side, I don't buy many clothes, and so it's less of an issue than it could be. Regardless, I want to get to the best place I can be given my size and budget, and so I thought it was about time I addressed it.

I've done a bit of an audit of the clothes I've bought this year. This has resulted in a few interesting results:

1) About half of my clothes are second hand, specifically from charity shops. I feel no need to adjust this shopping, as buying second hand is definitely a good thing in my book.

2) I don't buy many clothes. So far this year (10 1/2 months), in terms of new clothes, I've bought two pairs of jeans, a dress, a top, a couple of pairs of pyjama bottoms and a couple of pairs of leggings. Oh and a onesie. All in all, that's probably not much more than £100 in total (excluding the onesie). 

So how to do it better. Well, they don't make ethical clothes in larger sizes. They tend to stop at a 16/18, and so that's not an option for me at the moment. It's difficult to buy more second hand clothes than I currently do - the problem being that it's hard to find something if you're looking for a specific item. And buying less clothes isn't really the issue - I buy very few clothes, most of which are through need.

So where does that leave me? Well, the main problem I have is that the list of places I can get clothes from (New Look, Matalan, Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's...) is heavily dominated by cheap and not exactly high quality products. So I've been making a deliberate attempt to steer clear (where possible) from those places. Which has led me to... Marks and Spencers!

Yes. I have started shopping at M&S. So far this has extended to a couple of pairs of PJ bottoms and a pair of leggings, but I have to say that I'm impressed. I'm not sure M&S are any more ethical in their clothes production, but the stuff I've bought has certainly lasted a lot better than the previous items I've bought from other shops. My previous PJs lasted about 5 months, but these have been going strong for 9 months without sign of wearing out. They cost a few quid more, but it appears to be money well spent. The leggings are lasting well and haven't even got the weird baggy knee thing that most other pairs get. So hopefully by buying items that last longer and therefore need replacing less often, I can reduce the environmental impact that way.

Other than that, it's probably a case of trawling charity shops where possible and only buying the clothes I actually need....

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Adventures in WWOOFing

For the uninitiated, WWOOFing stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It's based around the premise that you go and work on an organic farm in exchange for food and board, getting to learn a lot about organic farming and hopefully having fun and meeting interesting people along the way. You're expected to work for between 25 and 35 hours per week, and the rest is 'free time'. In many farms, during your stay you are treated as a member of the family, eating and socialising alongside your hosts a lot of the time.

I've been meaning to go for years, but never quite got round to it. However, I've been thinking about WWOOFing when travelling at some point, and so I thought it was about time I got round to giving it a go in the UK. Added to that I had a week of holiday left to use this year, and am trying to save money at the moment, so it seemed like a good time.

Earlier in the summer I joined the UK WWOOFing network and set about trying to find a host for a week at the start of October. One of the farms I contacted were Park Mill Farm, based in Gloucestershire and only half an hour from Bristol. This appealed, as it meant I could just come home in the evenings if I didn't enjoy it, or keep in touch if I did. I also liked the fact that they were a small holding that had a veg box scheme as well as keeping rare breed pigs, chickens, ducks and geese. One of the owners, Lara, emailed me back very quickly and suggested we have a chat on the phone. As soon as I spoke to her I knew it was the right place to go, and we ended up chatting for ages.

Uncertain still of quite what to expect, I turned up on a Sunday night armed with warm clothes and wellies, hoping for a week where I would learn a few things and wouldn't miss Bristol too much. Immediately I knew the week was going to be ok - I was shown to the amazing converted cow shed where I was going to be staying - a beautiful building with open plan kitchen, dining table, sofa and bedroom, and separate bathroom. It was beautiful and Lara had put out a welcome pack of food including homemade jam and a packet of Minstrels. I was then promptly introduced to her husband Oli and their dogs Morgan and Milly, offered a glass of wine and made to feel so much at home.

The work itself varied so much over the week. I was given the daily task of looking after the animals (feeding the pigs, chickens, ducks and geese in the morning, and putting them to bed at night), and between that I got to do a bit of everything - from taking pigs to slaughter, weeding the veg beds, moving pigs and electric fencing, planting seeds, putting together veg boxes and meat orders, plucking and gutting a chicken, digging in ditches, spreading manure... On top of that, we also found time to drink a lot of tea, bake bagels and homemade hobnobs, and I also got an afternoon off to go and pootle round the local town.

My hosts Oli and Lara bought the farm (with its 20 acres of land) about 3 years ago, and it was almost completely derelict. None of the outbuildings were usable, and only 3 rooms in the house were even liveable in (and that's being generous with the description of liveable in). On top of that, the land hadn't been farmed in years. So far, the Stables has been converted to a holiday let and the Cow Shed to a multi-purpose venue, but they still live in 3 downstairs rooms of the main house while they slowly work on the rest of the property. It's a bit like Grand Designs but without the people having endless bucketloads of money to throw at the place...

Their passion for renovating the house and setting up a sustainable small holding is truly inspiring and a real labour of love - the veg plot is based around a CSA model and currently supplies veg to 10 local families, which Lara hopes will expand to 30 families next year. They have about 30 chickens, 16 ducks and 3 geese who all contribute to the "egg round". One of their big passions is their rare breed pigs, who they breed for meat and also use to clear land around the farm (they currently have 9 four week old piglets! Whilst they're not organic certified (the certificate is too expensive for a small farm), the meat and veg growing is all done to organic principles (and beyond!)

For me it was a really enlightening experience. I learnt a lot of practical skills, but by far the best thing was getting to know Lara and Oli, and talking to them about their experiences. They made me feel so much a part of their family during my stay - from chatting over cups of tea, to going for a walk with the dogs, to going to the local pub for a couple of drinks. It's really re-enforced with me what I feel about growing and eating vegetables and meat too - the pigs are so well loved and cared for, and the chickens they eat are the cockerels that are a by product of raising more hens too lay eggs (see my separate blog post here), and the veg is all seasonal. Life on the farm was a wonderful experience as well - time seemed to move a lot more slowly, and it didn't really feel like work a lot of the time.

For me, WWOOFing is definitely something I'm going to do again, and I'll definitely be back at Park Mill Farm in the not too distant future!

I blog therefore I am?

So it's all been a bit quiet on the blogging front over the last couple of months. It's been a combination of being busy, being ill and being away.

Things have been trundling along though. Have a little summary of a few things:
- My car share is up and running, and working well.
- I went WWOOFing for a week. It was awesome. More to follow about that...
- Today I cooked a meal almost completely (apart from the flour and stock in the gravy!) sourced from free range/organic and local ingredients.The veg came from the organic veg box, and the belly of pork was from the farm where I was wwoofing. It was amazing.
- I went on holiday to Scotland for a week. Not exactly exotic, but much more sustainable and affordable!
- I've switched to an 'eco' deodorant. Nobody's told me I smell yet, so that's probably a good thing. I'm trying a more natural toothpaste but remain unconvinced...
- I've been trying to fix my clothes when they start falling apart, rather than throw them away. So far, there's been a pretty good success!
- My housemates and I are trialling a lovefilm dvd rental subscription as a house as a legal way to watch more films.

Hopefully I'll be less slack with the blogging over the coming months.

The other distraction is that I've been working on my next project, which really feels like a natural continuation of this project. It's a bit early to spill the beans on it yet, but more to follow...

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Chickens and pigs...

For years I've wanted to find out more about animal slaughter and have an opportunity to be more involved in the process. That might sound really sinister, but I feel that if I'm going to eat the meat, I should be willing to get my hands dirty and be prepared to do some of the work. I know that's not true for everyone, but it's how I've felt for a while.

When I came WWOOFing, I didn't think that was something I was going to get the chance to be part of (especially given that I'm only hear for a week). But chance has it that my visit to Park Mill Farm coincided with two pigs being booked in at the abattoir, and d-day for one of the cockerels.

Caution - the rest of the post goes into more detail about the animal slaughter - don't say I didn't warn you.

The Pigs

When I arrived on Sunday evening, my hosts Lara and Oli told me that two of their pigs were booked in at the abattoir early the next morning. They told me I didn't have to go (a bit of a leap in at the wwoofing deep end) but I was keen to go. Early the next morning we loaded the pigs (affectionately named "the escapees" due to their ability to get through even the most comprehensive electric fencing) into the trailer and drove them about half an hour to the abattoir. The one we went to is a small local abattoir (slaughtering only 80 animals a day). Lara told me she'd been to visit a couple when they started keeping pigs, and was really impressed with this one as it's so small and independent - it also happens that it's the most local to the farm, minimising the transportation required.

I was impressed by the abattoir (well, as impressed as you can be) - the person who runs it was out in the yard to greet us, and you could see he cared about the animals by his manner with them. It was really fast to unload them and they are slaughtered immediately after being unloaded. The animals weren't in any distress when they arrived or were unloaded, and the whole process was very quick. Unfortunately this kind of small local abattoir is getting increasingly rare, as most are now large operations that deal in huge numbers of animals daily, and likely involve significantly more distress and less care for the animals involved.

The pigs are then collected by a local butcher, and tomorrow we go early in the morning to collect it from him. From there, some is packaged up for the orders which are collected either tomorrow or the next, and the remainder is frozen for future orders.

I've sampled some of the meat, and it's fantastic (Good Housekeeping Award winning!) - the pigs are truly free range (the Christmas pigs are currently roaming round a couple of acres of land including an orchard) and people say they can taste the apples in the meat!

Looking after the pigs and piglets on the farm this week, it has made me realise what a big deal it is to kill and animal and eat it. But it hasn't changed the fact that I don't think there's anything wrong with it, as long as it's done well and the animals are well cared for. The animals here are loved, and every step of their life from birth to death is thought through to ensure they are cared for as well as possible. It has made more sure that I want to limit the meat I eat to free range meat from smaller producers - I can't imagine large farms take the effort to collect crates of windfall apples from an orchard, lug them across the farm, and then feed them to a couple of the pigs just because they love them...

The chicken

Every morning on the farm I've been woken up by the cockerels. This year, Lara and Oli decided they wanted some more egg laying hens, and so incubated and hatched some of the eggs. However, unluckily, 9 of the hatchlings were cockerels. They kept them and raised them, but it's costly to feed them and so they've been slowly eating them over the months. When I arrived, there were 5, and feeding and letting them in/out of their house has been one of my jobs this week.

It was decided that we'd have a roast chicken this week, and so yesterday was the chosen day to do the deed. I went with Oli and Lara as they caught one of the cockerels (they are completely calm and stay still if you hold them in the right way). I stayed to watch it be killed - the kindest and quickest way is to break its neck, and so it was laid on the ground, a bar put across its neck, then by putting a foot either side of its neck and pulling upwards and forwards, it is killed instantly.

For me, the actual death was not distressing, but I was surprised by how long it carried on twitching for (the chicken is very much dead at this point - it's just the nerves twitching). We then took the bird to the shed and hung it up by its feet so we could pluck it (much easier when it's warm). I was really shocked by how tricky this was - there's a lot of different types of feathers on a chicken, and some are very hard or awkward to pluck (when this is done at factory farming scale, they dip the birds in wax and rip it off to pluck them). The bird was then left overnight for the blood to drain into its neck.

Back we went today. Here comes the gruesome bit. First we beheaded the chicken (complete with congealed blood). There are tendons running through the legs of the chicken, and so to remove them, you have to cut around the foot joint and pull. The tendons pull out of the legs and you're left with two feet with dangling tendons, and one chicken with no leg tendons. This sounds simple, but really isn't and is stupidly hard work. At one point I was pretty much dangling off the chicken foot and they were still holding on. However, this was eventually done and we got onto the gutting. I won't go into all the detail, but it was trickier than I thought - both in terms of the steps in the process, but also in terms of logistics - I have large hands and the neck and pelvis are small! However, it was really interesting too, especially to see how different a naturally raised chicken is to a supermarket one (much scrawnier in terms of muscle, but with much more fat!).

I didn't find the process upsetting at all really. If you're going to raise egg laying chickens, cockerels are going to be born, and I'd far rather they have a good life then be killed, than killed as chicks (which is what happens in the factory farming industry). The death was done efficiently and quickly, and I found the process afterwards really fascinating, but much more time consuming than I thought it'd be. One thing's to be sure, I'll never complain about paying what I used to think was a lot of money for a free range chicken...

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The reality of eating meat

This week I'm wwoofing on a small farm in Gloucestershire (more to come in another blog). The farm rears rare breed pigs, as well as having ducks, geese and chickens, and a CSA based veg plot. The pigs are reared for their meat and for me (especially after all my thoughts on meat eating this year), this is proving really interesting (especially given that my responsibilities this week involve looking after these animals).

It's been a bit of a baptism of fire. The first thing I did on Monday morning was help take two pigs to the abattoir (I was given the option of not going by my hosts, but decided I wanted to go) - it was a small local abattoir and actually a lot less distressing than I expected. On Friday we pick the meat up from the butchers and prepare it for collection by customers on Saturday.

On top of that, tomorrow I also get to learn how to kill a chicken (one of the cockerels they raised after hatching some eggs), then pluck, hang and gut it. Again, this isn't a mandatory part of the wwoofing experience, but something I've chosen to participate in.

I've thought for a long while that if you want to eat meat, you should be prepared to at least be fully aware of what that means. And so this week is a real test for me. I'll report back :)

Monday, 20 August 2012

A chest of drawers for life...

Three years ago I bought a chest of drawers off gumtree for £10. It has lasted reasonably well, but as with most cheap pieces of furniture made of chipboard that's been moved from house to house, it finally fell apart (in an unfixable way). I've been surviving with the drawers resting on top of each other for the last month or two, thinking I should probably get a new chest of drawers at some point.

Every day at work I walk through the Sofa Project to get to my office - my office is on the second floor, and I lock my bike up out the back of their office every day. They're a great organisation, collecting reusable and unwanted furniture and selling it at an affordable price to people (with a further discount for people on a low income). Added to that, they also provide work experience and employment for ex-offenders.

Last week I was walking through when I spied a particularly lovely chest of drawers. Upon enquiring, it was for sale for £50, but they offered to sell it to me for £40 due to working upstairs. I deliberated all day (I went down to see it three times) before eventually deciding to buy it. And this brings me joy for four reasons:

1) I get to support an awesome local charity that do amazing work

2) I get a piece of furniture that is made out of proper wood and will last for years. For considerably less money than it would cost to buy anything from Ikea.  

3) I get to re-use an existing piece of (perfectly good) furniture rather than buying something new. 

4) It's so lovely :) 

Sunday, 12 August 2012

A tale of three festivals - Part 2 - Cloud Cuckoo Land

Earlier this year I met a Marcus, who runs a small festival called Cloud Cuckoo Land. I'd heard good things about the festival from a few friends who were involved last year, and so I asked if theloveofit could come and run some games during this years festival. We got an enthusiastic response, and so plans were made to run some games akin to another big sporting event this summer.

I was lucky enough to get to go to Sunrise festival with Marcus and a few other people earlier in the year, and find out a bit more about Cloud Cuckoo Land and the ideas behind it. In summary, it's a community focused performing arts festival. But it's so much more than that. It's about people, about community building, about creativity, about trying to live differently. And all of the profits go into a trust called Koyaanisqatsi to be used to fund grass roots ecologically concious projects. There's also a long term plan too - "Somewhere over the rainbow, 'The Clouds' will become a land based project, hosting small festivals, performing arts productions, speakers and workshops, while developing a site infrastructure designed to nurture a small, permanent community of festival makers, growers, healers, eco builders and artists."

From the moment I arrived, I loved it. Set at the lovely Fernhill Farm in Somerset, the location itself fits the feel of the festival. Dominated by two large wooden barns, the site also had an array of marquees, tents, and of course a double decker speakeasy cocktail bar. People camped in the fields, stayed in the luxury on site accommodation  and used the eco loos that feed the reed bed system in the middle of the site.

Food was provided by the Fernhill Cafe and The People's Kitchen (who salvage food that was destined for landfill). There were workshops and talks from all manner of people from Mark Boyle to the Embercombe community. Entertainment ranged from storytelling in the woods to flash mob charletons. And then there was the music - oh the music! Hip hop, ska, gypsy, dub, acoustic - so much ear tingling awesomeness and crazy dancing fun. To top it off, Up-cycle and Scrapdragon were there to ensure the waste was dealt with responsibly, and allow create uses to be found for some of the things that were thrown out.

I've never been to such a small festival before (less than 1000 people), or one with such a large amount of crew and volunteers. It had a truly special feel to it, knowing that so many people had given their time and energy for free to make it happen. And the people were what made it such a great experience - there were so many interesting and amazing people there. Add in some local cider and some great music and you can't fail to have a fantastic time.

The whole festival for me lived and breathed the deconsumerism project - everything was so well thought through. It was local, eco, responsible and full of awesome people and challenging ideas. Definitely one I'll be back for next year...

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Collaborative Consumption and the Sharing Economy

Six months ago, certain words and phrases were completely alien to me. One of them is provenance (especially regarding the origins of food), and the second is "collaborative consumption".

So what is it? The website states that it is "...a social and economic system driven by network technologies that enable the sharing and exchange of all kinds of assets from spaces to skills to cars in ways and on a scale never possible before."

Here's a nice little video that provides a nice little summary:

A quote from the video describes it as "traditional sharing, bartering, lending, trading, renting, gifting and swapping redefined through technology and peer communities".

Several of the websites and projects I've come across and used so far this year come under the collaborative consumption banner - couchsurfing, freecycle, justfortheloveofit, liftshare, gocarshare, indiegogo, kickstarter. All my experiences have been great - I've met amazing people, saved money, borrowed things instead of having to buy things, supported projects I believe in, and felt part of a different economy. Added to that, I've contributed my own piece in a small way through the Bristol Jam Jar Network, trying to set up exchanges of jam jars between people rather than recycle or waste them.

All in all, I think learning about collaborative consumption has been one of the most interesting parts of the project so far. I've been doing a lot of research over the last few weeks about different projects for something I'm hoping to do next year, and have come across a whole array of inspiring and interesting ideas. More to come soon......

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Steph versus Skipping

Skipping (aka skip diving or dumpster diving) is the act of digging through bins behind shops, supermarkets or cafes, and rescuing things that would otherwise be thrown away and wasted. It's not exclusively about food, but the most common type of skipping is for waste food, usually thrown out by supermarkets.

I vaguely knew this existed, but didn't really know how it worked, or anyone who did it. Late last year I read a book called "Free" about a woman who lived for free in London for a year, and it covered her skipping activities in detail as this was how she fed herself for the year. Mark Boyle also talks about it in "The Moneyless Man", as does Tristram Stuart in "Waste", and so over the months I've become a lot more familiar with how it works, the legal implications and what to be aware of.

I've also been getting pretty interested in the whole issue of food waste through the Feeding the 5000 event and Tristram Stuarts book. I've heard descriptions by people of bins overflowing with food, but I figured it was about time I saw for myself. And so when I saw someone posting on a couchsurfing group about it, I jumped at the chance, and messaged someone on there who was offering to take people out skipping.

A mere four hours after my first message, I found myself cycling into the car park of a nearby supermarket with someone who had been a complete stranger half an hour before, armed with torches and bags. There were four large bins lining the wall of the supermarket, none of which were locked. Upon opening the first, we found an abundance of fruit shoots, yoghurt and cakes, with a few packets of cheese and some soup. The second and third were mostly rubbish, but the fourth hit jackpot again, with pears, grapes, cabbage and more bread than you could ever need. We took our time sorting through, loaded up our bags and tidied up after ourselves. Nobody gave us a second look.

Our second stop was outside a small supermarket on a main road, which was still open. This bin had a lock, but was easily opened with a triangular key you can get from a hardware shop for a pound. Inside we found ice cream. Haagan Dazs, Ben & Jerry's, Magnums, Soleros, Carte D'Or - the bin was full of it. Unfortunately a lot of it was quite melted and I wasn't willing to risk refreezing it (though the guy I was with took about 20 tubs). It was shocking though, just to see the sheer volume of waste. We didn't need to make a third stop as our bags were full already. 

Even after reading about food waste for months, it still shocked me. When you're standing, staring at bins full of food that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with, you can't ignore the wastefulness of it. And according to the guy who I went with, this was nothing. If you can get further out of town, to bins that are less commonly skipped, you can fill cars with the stuff you find. 

And it was a lot easier than I expected. Most bins aren't locked, and you generally don't get any trouble from staff or the police (nobody batted an eye at us, despite being in front of an open shop). Most of the food I brought back was completely fine, and some of it was still in date (one thing is in date til April 2013!). Although I did learn a lesson about checking food carefully before taking it - while I don't really follow best before dates, one of the things I'd picked up turned out to be several weeks out of date and a bit worse for wear on close inspection. 

So I'm definitely up for going again - I can't see myself getting a large proportion of my food from there, but I definitely want to help reduce food waste, and if I get free food in the process, then it's win - win all round!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Pensions and festival tickets...

Two subjects that don't really have a whole lot in common, but neither are quite complex enough to warrant an individual post, so I thought I'd lump them together.

So pensions. Hardly an exciting conversation topic. However, I have to have a company pension and so I've had to think about it a bit recently, as my work have switched to a different pension provider and I had to have an appointment with a pension advisor. Now I'm not going to bore you with any great details about it, but I did decide to insist on having an ethical pension, limiting what my money can be invested in. It would seem pointless to have switched banks if I didn't apply the same standards to other financial things like my pension. So that's done.

Onto festival tickets. Earlier this year I won two tickets to a festival via a photography competition. Unfortunately I wasn't able to make it to the festival in the end as it fell on the same weekend as my Mum's 60th birthday party. So I suddenly found myself with two tickets (each with a face value of £190) that I couldn't use. And I couldn't decide what the right thing to do with the tickets was. So I posed the following question on facebook with the following options:
1) Sell them on ebay. Keep the money.
2) Sell them on ebay. Use the money for something beneficial for myself (e.g. a course I really want to go on later this year that I can't really afford) that also fits in with the project.
3) Sell them on ebay. Give away the money.
4) Give the tickets away to someone who couldn't otherwise afford to go
5) Trade the tickets through justfortheloveofit for some skills that I need.

Alongside putting the question on facebook, I spent a lot of time talking through the options, especially with my housemates. It really made me think about the project again, and what it actually means. I spent a lot of time questioning about whether it would be wrong to actually sell the tickets. And if I gave the tickets away, how would I work out who was a worthy person to give the tickets to? Several friends pointed out that I'd won the tickets through skill rather than pure chance, and I shouldn't deny myself something nice. I liked the idea of trading, but there wasn't anything I particularly needed or wanted, and realised that trying to trade was actually more likely to result in me ending up having something I didn't really need. Also, as the festival hadn't sold out, I would be selling them for less than face value. 

In the end I decided to sell them on ebay. They ended up selling pretty quickly, and to a buyer who looked like a person rather than a tout. Also, from their emails (as much as you can trust them), it appears it was a couple who love the festival, but couldn't afford to go that year. So hopefully people have genuinely benefited from the tickets.

And as for the money, I've decided to put it aside and spend it on something for the project. I'm not sure what that'll be yet - maybe a course I want to go on, or a membership for something like wwoofing. That way I'm not simply buying or trading for something that I don't really need, and it can help me to do something that I might not have otherwise been able to afford. 

The trials and tribulations of car sharing...

I own a car. There's no easy way to say it, especially when you're writing about consumerism and trying to live more sustainably. When I did my budget at the start of the year, I discovered that it costs me just over £20 a week, before I put any petrol in it.

I bought my car (second hand) 6 years ago, when I started my first job in Bristol. The office I worked at was on the outskirts of Bristol, and the public transport was... well... non-existent. I lift shared for the 3 years that I worked there, but my car was pretty necessary. When I finished that job, I went back to studying for a Masters, and just never got rid of my car.

With my current job, I have to have a car. I do home visits, presentations and training around the Bristol area, and there's no feasible way to do it without driving. On average I use my car once or twice a week, plus probably one weekend a month. Obviously this isn't ideal though as it spends a majority of its time sat parked outside my house.

Earlier this year I thought my car had died, and I looked into car clubs. However, with the amount that I use the car, it didn't work out any cheaper than owning my car, and since my car turned out to not be as broken as expected, I decided to keep hold of it. Instead I decided that car sharing my car with a couple of friends would be a better option. My insurance renewal is the start of July, so I put off doing anything about it until mid June.

I'd spoken to three friends about the idea, who were all keen, so I started to look into it more seriously. My insurance last year was with Sheila's Wheels and I wanted to stay with them - partly because they were top on the Ethical Consumer list, and also because their quote was a good couple of hundred pounds cheaper than anywhere else. All was looking good - between the four of us, the car was going to be used a lot more, and hopefully I'd save some money along the way.

In terms of the practicalities, we laid down some ground rules that we would sign - we decided it would be a good idea to get things down in writing so it wouldn't be possible to argue to get confused about anything in the future. As well as working out things like what happens if someone has an accident, who's responsible for paying for what, and where the car lives, we also worked out how the costs would work. In the end, we decided that I would keep ownership of the car and would be responsible for the insurance, tax, MOT, breakdown cover and servicing. All the other drivers would be responsible for paying the extra on my insurance, and then pay me 45p a mile for using the car (which includes petrol costs and a contribution to the other costs). 

And then I hit some snags. The first was that Sheila's Wheels won't insure anyone other than the main driver for business use. As one of the people was primarily going to be using it for work, that ruled her out. The second problem was that it was going to cost another of my friends about £150 to be added to my insurance, due to (a) being male and (b) having had an accident in the last 5 years. So in the end, I only managed to add one person to the insurance, which is a bit of a shame. 

I'm hoping I'll be able to find a few more people who'd be interested by the end of the year though, meaning the car will be used more and my costs will go down further. 

For now, I'll be interested to see how it all works in practice...

Monday, 2 July 2012

6 months in...

How time flies. It seems just weeks ago that I started with a blank page and a rough idea of where I thought this year was going to go. Now I'm halfway through, it seems like a good time for a bit of a reflection on how things have gone so far.

The aim of the year was to see what kind of changes I could make to my life whilst retaining a fairly "normal" kind of life - full time job, busy social life etc. But actually, the deeper into the project I get, the more I have found myself questioning as to whether I want a "normal" kind of life. The further down this path I go, the further I want to take it.

And fundamentally, most of what's changed so far has been internal. Yes, there have been physical actions - giving up supermarkets, starting car sharing, switching banks... But what's changed far more than these outward signs has been my mindset and the way I think. I think far more about my life, my possessions, my money and my actions than I did before. I feel far more in tune with my environmental interests and beliefs, and feel that my life is slowly shaping to reflect this. But my target of where I want to get is moving further away.

As I learn more about sharing networks and collaborative consumption, I find myself more open to giving things away and sharing the things I have. Since stopping watching TV and installing adblocker on my internet browser, I feel less affected by advertising and the media and freer as a result. The more I loosen my emotional connection with things and belongings, the less I care about them and the less I buy. The more I learn about provenance and manufacturing, the more I realise the importance of buying good quality and well sourced things, reflected in what I have bought over the last 6 months. Where once I might have seen waste, I now see potential.

It's difficult to know how much of this change in my direction and perception has come through this project and how much from a journey that I was already on (one that led me to start the project in the first place). But I can say that the speed at which I'm moving down this road has been far accelerated by this project - the decisions I've made and the people I've met through it have changed my thinking and actions in ways that I didn't expect and still find surprising. And the people have been one of the highlights for me - it's led me to meet some truly amazing and inspiring people who I hope I will keep in touch with and continue to learn from in the future.

It's also made me look quite critically at myself and my life. I think this is a good thing, but I have a tendency to be overly hard and critical of myself and what I achieve (something my friends have been trying to beat out of me for years), and have really struggled at points so far this year with feeling quite uninspired at myself and feeling like I should be doing more. Trying to strike this balance has been one of the hardest things for me about the project and I'm definitely not there yet.

In some ways I feel like I've achieved a lot - I've stopped going to supermarkets (apart from a few exceptions), switched banks, rescued furniture, reduced my waste, changed my eating and food buying habits, learnt to fix my bike, started the car share process, gone on holiday without flying, couchsurfed, moved into a more community minded house, made presents instead of buying them, switched most of my toiletries to better alternatives, volunteered for good causes, got excited about jam jars and become a regular user of my local library.

But then I sit here and realise how far I still have to go. I still struggle with eating meat and buying well sourced meat when I'm out, I'm still a car owner, I still buy clothes from high street shops, I eat less organic food than I'd like, I still buy from websites like Amazon, I still use some regular toiletries, I don't recycle as much as I should, I still waste food and don't eat as seasonally as I should.

So here's to the next 6 months...

Thursday, 28 June 2012

A tale of three festivals (part 1)

I love festivals. Music, people, fun - what's not to love? I also really love working at festivals - not only do you get a free ticket (whoop!), but I find it also gives me a bit of structure and a different perspective on the experience.

Over the last couple of years, I've been helping to run treasure hunts at festivals, taking a team of my friends and running fun and unusual activities for festival goers. Yes, it's been partly about getting into nice festivals for free, but also it's a good feeling to offer something a bit different for people there. This year, there's a bit more of that on the horizon (see parts 2 and hopefully 3), but my first festival of the year was a different story.

Earlier this year I met Marcus who runs a festival called Cloud Cuckoo Land. I was introduced through one of my friends after enquiring as to which festivals theloveofit should go to this year, and Cloud Cuckoo Land was their top suggestion. I'll write more about Cloud Cuckoo Land another time, but suffice to say that it's a really great small and environmentally concious festival with awesome music and great people. Marcus invited me to go with his team to Sunrise festival last weekend, to run an area that was called "Occupy your tents". The premise was simple - bring back a bit of the festival atmosphere to the campsight. For me, it was an opportunity to run some creative workshops and be involved in something a bit different. And so off to Sunrise I went.

For me, it was a really great opportunity to go to a new festival as well. I've never been to Sunrise before, and in all honesty, I probably wouldn't have gone if someone hadn't offered me a place on their team. It's a very eco and green festival, aiming to "partake in the ushering in of the new paradigm of holistic, sustainable living, natural wisdom and the loving unity of all beings". Not entirely sure what to expect, I pitched up on Thursday lunchtime, armed with my tent, a sleeping bag and two bags of miscellaneous games and craft. I'm used to going to festivals in a group of my friends, so going on my own was an entirely new experience for me.

My first impression during an initial amble around was that it was much more alternative than I was expecting. I'd anticipated a slightly more eco version of a regular festival, but it was far more so than I'd imagined. A friend described it to me as a collection of the most hippy people from Glastonbury festival all in one place, which was something similar to my first impression, and while I loved it, I wasn't sure if I would fit in. I was also a bit bemused about a lot of the programme - I come from a pretty traditional background, and a lot of talks and workshops were on spirituality and things that I just didn't understand (I genuinely have no idea what esoterica, entheogens or geomancy are). 2 hours in, I was a little bit uncertain about whether this was a good idea.

And then I sat down in a cafe for a coffee, and got chatting to the two people at the same table as me. A couple of hours later, they headed off, giving me their phone numbers to keep in touch if I needed people to hang out with during the festival. What nice people, I thought to myself, continuing on my way. But that kind of openess and friendliness was something that I found continued throughout the whole weekend. Hands down, it's the most friendly and genuine festival I've ever been to. People talk to you, smile at your, and occasionally hug you for no reason.

And given the weather situation, hugs were needed. There was a bit of rain. And by a bit, I mean a lot. Which then of course resulted in a slightly epic amount of mud. Fields became mud baths, and paths became treacherous pits of sticky-slidyness. The sun came out, but it was too little too late.

This put a bit of a dampener on our creative plans. Gone was the outdoor stage and the firepit. In came the free tea and craft workshops. All in all, I think we made the best of a bad situation, and still had fun doing it. I also found the time to make it to a few talks and workshops - some of which were things that I would probably not otherwise have gone to, but I'm really glad I had the opportunity to go. Sometimes I think it's good to gently nudge at the boundaries of what you find easy or comfortable.

I also met some great and fascinating people. We were working very closely with the Up-Cycle team (partly due to overlapping friendships and team members), and so there were a total of 16 of us between the two groups. It was great for me to meet several people who are living in different ways and running or helping out with some amazing projects along the way.

Going to a festival on my own was definitely a different experience. I missed my close friends and the ease of having people always there, but it definitely pushed me to meet new people and have the guts to go to things I really wanted to see on my own (one of my highlights was seeing Yes Sir Boss on the Sunday night, which I went to by myself). And now I'm back in the real world with new friends, inspirational thoughts and a whole heap of muddy clothes...

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Bristol, Barcelona, Bilbao and back...

And what an adventure it was! It was everything I’d hoped it would be and so much more. The aim for me was to experience a touch of slow travel, to travel by methods other than flying, and to meet people along the way.

The initial destination was a festival just south of Spain. The easiest way by far to get there was to fly to Barcelona and then head to the festival from there. However, that didn’t quite fit with the deconsumerism brief, so instead, 3 friends and I decided to go on a bit of a road trip and turn that into part of the holiday.

Three days in a car might not sound like much fun. But when you see it as part of the holiday, it becomes an adventure in itself. The route was planned via a series of beautiful swimming spots (from the Wild Swimming France book) and some friends of a friend’s house in Brittany. Yes there was a lot of driving (but an awesome chance to listen to great music and Adam and Joe podcasts), but it was also a brilliant opportunity to hang out with my friends, see the changing countryside, stop in places I never would have seen (including some lovely French towns), swim in places I would never have otherwise had a chance to stop at, and meet some really lovely people.

One of the highlights for me was the first night when we stayed with a couple called Fred and Vero. A few years ago, they bought a dilapidated old house and piece of land, and have been living there ever since, renovating the house and creating an amazing vegetable garden. Along with their two children, they’re living the slow life – growing a lot of their own food, sourcing a lot locally, renovating their own home in the countryside – it’s a style of life that part of meal really yearns for, but yet isn’t quite ready for. Talking to Fred and Vero was enlightening – it’s not been an easy journey, and they lived in a camper van for months with a young baby while they were renovating the house to a liveable standard. But everything about the renovation feels right – natural building materials, a composting toilet, the characterful details that come when you do a job yourself...

The road trip was followed by three days at a festival run by another friend. A couple of years ago, Anna bought a piece of land a few hours south of Barcelona and set about creating Boodaville. The idea was to create an eco tourism with positive environmental and social impacts. The site has no electricity or running water, and everything is done in the lowest impact way possible (she built the yurt herself using a guide downloaded from the internet). For the past couple of years, over her birthday weekend she has put on a small festival, and that’s why we were there. With my “love of it” hat on, we were running some fun games on the Saturday afternoon, but mostly we were just there to have fun.

Nothing had quite prepared me for the place to be honest. The site itself was beautiful, and I enjoyed the lack of electricity and running water on site – it takes you away from your life a bit and helps you to properly relax away from life. The other people there were, quite simply, brilliant. It’s not since I studied for my Masters at the Centre for Alternative Technology that I’ve met a group of people that I’ve clicked with so instantly. And they are the perfect people for me to be meeting this year – from people running bike trips across Bristol, to people involved in eco building and permaculture. I can’t really summarise the experience well, so I’ll just say that there was beer drinking, river swimming, late night dancing, scrabble playing, amazing food eating and lots and lots of chilling...

After all that chilling, it only seemed right to get back to civilisation a little and so it was off to Barcelona. I’d tried to find a couchsurfing place in Barcelona with no joy (people just get inundated with requests and it’s supposed to be one of the hardest places to find somewhere to stay). However, whilst at Boodaville, I bumped into someone I’d met a few times in Bristol and she invited me to stay with her in Barcelona. So I cancelled my hostel, got dropped at a tiny train station in rural Spain (only 3 trains a day...) and found my way to Barcelona.

For me, it was the perfect experience. I know I would have met people had I stayed in a hostel, but I wanted to meet people who lived there, not other tourists. Staying with Alice was just this, and a welcome surprise after I didn’t manage to find a couch surfing space). While Alice was at work during the day, I explored Barcelona (using as my guide a list another friend who used to give in Barcelona had given me), and in the evening she showed me around – we went for dinner in a squat, stumbled across some kind of festival involving samba drumming and fireworks, drank mojitos with some of her friends, chilled with her housemate... In there I also found the time to meet up with a couch surfer who had been unable to host me but was still enthusiastic to meet up, and we spent an evening chatting about sustainability and photography whilst drinking beer and wandering around the streets. The things I’ll remember about Barcelona are those moments, not the beautiful architecture or tourist attractions.

Too soon my time in Barcelona was up and I was off to Bilbao. A couple of couchsurfers had already offered to host me for my three nights there, and Diego kindly met me at the station before showing me back to their flat. Him and his girlfriend, Cristina, really couldn’t have been any kinder. They took me on walking tours of the city, fed me the best sushi I’ve ever had, took me to their favourite spots to eat and drink and showed me some amazing and unusual places (including the incredible hanging bridge). They even took invited me for a meal with Diego’s family, which featured the most immense spread of food!. For my first proper couchsurfing experience, it was amazing.

The journey home was a real adventure as well. I had to be in Hendaye by Monday evening and so I decided to leave Bilbao in the morning and spend the day in San Sebastian. It was probably the most touristy part of my trip. I found somewhere to dump my bags then spent the day ambling around and chilling out. I climbed a big hill, ate some nice food, drank coffee and sat and read my book on the beach. Late afternoon I ambled back to the station and found a train to Hendaye, where I got on my sleeper train up to Paris.

The beginning of the sleeper train was great. I had the four bed (first class!) cabin to myself and sat and read my book. At 10 another girl got on, and promptly announced she wanted to turn the light off. So at 10pm I was stuck in bed reading my book, not ready for bed. Later, two people joined, and I eventually went to bed at midnight. I didn’t sleep very well, but I did sleep. The train was more rattley and jerky than I anticipated, but I still enjoyed the experience and the adventure of it. Once in Paris, I got the Metro across to Gare de Nord, then the Eurostar to London. The Eurostar was actually the most hassle full part of the journey – there was quite a lot of queuing and waiting around. But arriving in London was wonderfully easy, and you walk straight off the train into St Pancras International station. Then a quick tube ride across London, followed by a coach back to Bristol and a taxi home.

All in all, it was about 20 hours door to door for me to get back. But I enjoyed the journey, and it felt like so much less of a chore than flying home which always feels like the worse part of the holiday.

Experience wise, it’s up there with my favourite holidays ever (the other would be my trip to the Philippines, which feels like the most similar trip I’ve done to this one, apart from the long haul flight either end...). I didn’t mind the long journeys, and actually feel they added to the experience. I also met so many people on the trip and that added to the experience massively. It’s the first time I’ve travelled on my own and I really enjoyed the experience and wouldn’t hesitate to go away on my own again.

Cost wise, it was definitely more expensive. The car trip down cost about £150 each for the car, ferry and petrol. But given that it was door to door (especially given the remote location of the destination) and that it included 3 days of holidaying, it felt like a bargain. The trip back cost about the same – the sleeper train from Hendaye to Paris was £50 odd (it would have been less if I’d bought the ticket earlier – closer to £35). The Eurostar clocked in at the most expensive part of the journey at £85ish, but if I was on a budget I could have chosen to get the megabus to London for just £4. The coach back to Bristol was about £6 (my budget choice over the far more expensive train). So yes, it’s more expensive, but that’s mostly because flights are unsustainably cheap at the moment!

And for me, it was worth every penny! Now I'm off to plan my next adventure...

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Inspiring Projects - The Bristol Bike Project

For the first in my inspiring projects series, I went to speak to the Bristol Bike Project about reuse, funding and the levelling effect of bikes. 

For my birthday this year, I asked for a bike maintenance course from my sister. I wanted to get presents that were more about doing and learning things, she didn’t know what to buy me, and I really needed to learn how to do some basic maintenance on my bike. After a bit of searching, I decided to do the one at the Bristol Bike Project. A few of my friends had volunteered there in the past, it was good value for money, and it had the convenience of being just round the corner from my house...

One Saturday course later, my bike was in significantly better shape, my ability to carry out basic maintenance was dramatically increased, and my hands were satisfyingly covered in grease. I’d also had a bit of an insight into the bike project and the range of work they did. Inspired in particular by the reuse and sustainable funding aspects (which fitted in really well with the deconsumerism areas I’ve been looking at recently), I went back to the project a few weeks later to talk to Henry Godfrey, one of the directors, to find out more.

So, how did the project come about?

It was started in the winter of 2008 by two friends, James and Colin. James was working at the Welcome Centre, getting to know refugees. He identified that there was an important need for transport amongst refugees and asylum seekers, and people were desperate for bikes. So they got some bikes and gave them away, but quickly realised that ‘giving away’ was the wrong attitude and it wasn’t just about giving people a handout. The idea that people would come in to the workshop and work on the bikes was added, which is the basis of the Earn A Bike scheme.

Through the scheme, we take bikes that are donated, repair and refurbish them and distribute them to underprivileged groups. As part of the scheme, the people who receive the bikes come for a session at our workshop and work on a bike alongside us. It’s a moneyless transaction as the bike is free – the investment for them is time.

As well as the Earn A Bike scheme, there are a number of other aspects to the project. There are weekly women’s nights and a weekly bike kitchen (where people can come and work on their own bikes using our tools and the workshop), as well as maintenance courses, bike hire and sales. The project is also run mainly by volunteers, of which there are about 20, who volunteer usually half a day to a day a week.

We’ve found it’s important not to try and expand the project too quickly though. It’s finding its place, and there’s only so many days in the week. If there’s too many people in the workshop, it’s bad as people make mistakes. We aim to be busy without being hectic.

Where do the bikes come from?

A majority of the bikes come from public donations, but we also get some from railway stations and the police. A lot of these would otherwise have been thrown out and ended up in landfill. We probably get on average 10 bikes per week, and of these, about 50% are able to be refurbished. If this isn’t possible, we either strip them down as an educational exercise for new volunteers, take off the usable parts or scrap them. Things have to be dealt with quite quickly when they come in as we don’t have much space. Generally, if people donate a good quality bike, we can always fix them up. But a lot of people buy cheap bikes that we simply can’t do anything with other than scrap.

With our waste, a lot of it can be recycled. Of the parts that cannot be, some is given to other people who find a use for it. The inner tubes and tyres are used by someone locally to make accessories (, and some of our scrap wheels have been used to make a geodesic dome. However, we are unfortunately limited by time and space, and so can’t do as much as we’d like.

How are you funded?

There is a trading arm to the project, which allows it to be funded in a sustainable way. We didn’t want to be constantly chasing funding, so it is mostly funded through the maintenance courses, bike sales, repairs and bike hire. This is important, as funding for working with people like asylum seekers is very difficult to find. There is still a need for some traditional funding, but all the wages are from the trading activities.

Who does the project help?

We get people referred from a number of places like the Welcome Centre (asylum seekers), Bristol Drugs Project, the Probation Service, and the Big Issue. Some come through the Earn A Bike scheme, and others come as supported volunteers, a couple of whom have been coming for years.

So, as well as providing people with bikes, the project trains people who are struggling to find work by contributing to their personal development, equipping them with skills and empowering people. It can also provide people with a reference to help them in the future.

There are also many additional benefits from the project. For example, it reduces the demand for stolen goods, as many of the people who receive a bike through the scheme may otherwise have bought a stolen bike.

What’s it like to work on the project?

Fixing bikes is easy. But managing a workers cooperative and the flat structure is hard and there’s a lot of unpaid work involved. People come to us in difficult situations, and we aim to be part of people turning their life around. It can be very challenging – people are not always easy to deal with and have a lot of their own problems. However, seeing people use the project as part of their self development is very rewarding. When people say that they want to be here, it’s really rewarding.The project can be a base for people – somewhere for people to come back to.

I also find that bikes are a good leveller – it’s such an inclusive and accessible technology for people. We have people who sleep rough working next to people who work at Rolls Royce or the MOD. There’s not many places where you get that.

For more info, see the Bristol Bike Project website, and watch this short film for a glimpse into their work

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The colour purple...

I've been dying my hair, on and off since I was 18. In fact, I've been dying it some shade of red/purple for the last 5 years, to the point that I'm not 100% sure what colour my hair is any longer.

The truth is I like my hair colour (currently a reddy purple colour). However, every time I dye it, I can smell the hideous chemicals, and watch them swirl down the drain with a slight sadness. Added to this, I've been using Lush hair products pretty constantly for the last 3 months, and I don't really want to undo all the good this has been doing my hair by sticking a bottle of my usual hair dye on it.

And so the hunt for an alternative began.

The first port of call was Henna, which is extracted from the henna plant. Dying your hair using henna appears to be a bit of an art - the type of henna, the heat of the henna, the time it's left in on, all affect the results. I love the idea of it, but I don't really like the results - it tends to leave the hair quite reddish with a hint of orange, which I've had before and don't think really suits me. I found some auburn looking Henna and did a test piece on my hair, which left it more orange than I'd like...

So henna went off the list and I was back to square one.

And then I was in my local organic supermarket yesterday and stumbled across Naturtint hair colourant in a pleasing "plum" shade, which contains no ammonia or parabens, and some organic ingredients. I took the plunge and bought a pack.

Today was dye day (a last minute pre-holiday decision), and I have to say that I'm please with it so far. It was no different to using my normal dye (apart from the frustrating lack of an applicator bottle...). The colour is indeed plum, my hair feels soft and in good condition afterwards, and it definitely smelt a lot less hideous! The test will be to see how long it lasts for now...

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Through the hard times and the good...

I've had a hard couple of weeks. I've not been 100% well, and have also been busy putting together and organising a photography exhibition, doing some free photography for a few events, as well as trying to arrange my holiday (for which I leave on Tuesday!). The grand result of all of that is that I've been really busy, and a bit knackered. And as a result, I feel like I've been doing badly at all of the Deconsumerism stuff. I feel like I've not made any progress and lost some of the momentum and excitement I had. I'm tired and part of me just wants to take the easier route.

And to top it all off, I went to a supermarket.


I was put in charge of buying some basic food and toiletry items for the road trip part of the holiday. It got to Saturday, the only time I could feasibly do the shopping, and I was knackered. Rather than traipse round loads of different shops, getting all the things I needed, I went to Coop and bought them all in one go. I was tired and I didn't have the energy to spend hours wandering around getting everything.

Do I regret it? I'm not really sure... I bought mostly things like loo roll and washing up sponges, which aren't the reason why I stopped going to supermarkets in the first place. But I do feel in some way like I've let myself down.

However, this is probably more a reflection of my overly perfectionistic nature than anything else. Someone said to me a while ago that I need to stop giving myself such a hard time about things. I'm not going to be able to do things 100% perfectly - life tends to get in the way. The point of this project was to find a balance where things were sustainable in the long term, not to take things to such an extreme that I can't manage to keep them up.

So I guess I'm still trying to find that balance. How far should I push myself to do and be better, and when should I just accept that I can't do everything...?

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Appropriate timing...

So less than a week after writing a blog post about photography, and how I'd like to continue to take opportunities to use my skills to help groups or projects that can't afford to pay a photographer, I get an request to do just that. And for a project I'm really excited about. So how could I say no?

The Feeding the 5000 event is this weekend in Bristol. Aiming to highlight the problems with food waste, the plan is to cook a free meal for 5000 people from surplus food that would have gone to waste.

It's such  an awesome event that I signed up to volunteer at it. I filled in the volunteer form, and under the skills section mentioned that I'd done some event photography in the past. And then I thought no more of it. Last night I got an email asking if I'd be their photographer. 20% excited, 80% terrified, I said yes. It's an amazing opportunity to be able to properly help out a project that I passionately believe in. I'm not entirely sure where I'm going to find the time to edit all the photos - I've got a holiday to plan and a photo exhibition to finish and hang, but I'm sure I'll find a way!

More about the event (hopefully with some photos!) to come soon...

Inspiring projects

Over the past few months I’ve read a lot of books, watched some films, researched stuff on the internet and had countless interesting conversations about deconsumerism. Along the way, I’ve been really lucky to stumble across some inspiring projects and meet some truly great people. These projects and people have really shaped the project for me, influencing the way I think about things and challenging me to think about things that weren’t even on my radar.

And so I decided that I wanted to talk to the people involved in more detail, and write about them to try and share something about why they’ve inspired me so much. I am a big believer that positive inspiration is the best motivator, so I think we should celebrate and encourage the people who do things well – who strive in challenging circumstances to do something different - something that they’re passionate about and believe in.

Over the coming months I’m hopefully going to talk to visit community farms, butchers, reuse and waste prevention projects, inspiring festivals and hopefully a whole bunch of awesome projects that I don’t even know about yet...

Anyone got any suggestions of projects or people I should meet?

Monday, 7 May 2012

The Lush effect

My name's Steph and I'm a Lush addict. It has been 3 hours since I last used a Lush product. This is my story.

It all began several years ago. I've always struggled with problems with my scalp. The doctor diagnosed it as eczema and prescribed me some shampoo. The problem? It was made out of tar and smelt... well... horrible. And while it just about kept things under control, it didn't really make the situation any better.

Eventually, on the advice of a friend that perhaps I should try a shampoo with less chemicals in it, I wandered into Lush. A bit overwhelmed by the smell and the intensely attentive staff, I explained the problem and was recommended one of their solid shampoos, which is specifically for people with sensitive scalps. I parted with five pounds and left, unconvinced it was going to work.

But within about a month, my scalp was so much better that I no longer had to use the dreaded tar shampoo. By the time I finished that bar, I was able to switch to a different (and nicer smelling!) Lush shampoo.

And until I started this project, that's as deep as I went down the Lush path.

At the start of this year, toiletries were on my radar to tackle. I'd always used whatever shampoo, conditioner, soap etc that I wanted to, mostly picking things on how much they cost and how nice they smelt. And then I realised that a lot of this stuff had quite a significant environmental impact, and maybe I should look into alternatives.

At a similar time, one of my closest friends got a job at Lush. I didn’t think much about it first, but then she started to come up with all kinds of information about how green Lush were. I’d always focused on my slight dislike to the shop – the overpowering smell, the slightly-too-attentive staff – and not thought much about the products themselves. It was an education. Over the months, I learnt about the natural base of their products, why some of them cost more, why a lot of things in our traditional toiletries are bad, and most of all, their policy on packaging.

It also helped that I got to try out a lot of products. When I moved house in March, I moved in with this friend, and one of our other housemates was also a Lush employee. They constantly came home with odds and ends of products and so I got to try out some different things and see how they suited me. Some were instant wins – a lovely coconut shampoo, almond oil based face wash that improved my skin massively, a hand cream that could cope with my eczema (and actually helped it) – others were nice but not things I’d buy myself – the face masks for example.

And then something happened, and I started buying the stuff myself. I bought some conditioner, some dry shampoo, some deodorant...

Suddenly my toiletry collection has suddenly become quite Lush heavy. My shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, face wash, hand moisturiser, styling cream, perfume and dry shampoo is now Lush. I like the products – they work well, smell nice, are much better for the planet, and best of all, come in minimal or recycling packaging. My shampoo comes in a block, wrapped in a bit of waxed paper (recyclable) rather than a plastic bottle. My face wash come in tubs, that are really useful for other things, or can be returned to the shop for recycling. And the things that come in bottles come in bottles that are either recyclable or can be returned to the shop for reuse. The only thing I’m not sure can be recycled is the perfume bottles – they do offer it in a solid block form, so maybe I’ll try that next time and see how I get on with it.

I have noticed a difference too – my skin is noticeably better – both on my face (from the face wash) and on my hands (where I always get eczema). Added to that, my hair gets less greasy, and I can now sometimes go a third day between washing it, rather than the two days I managed before. So big ticks for performance. The situation also seems to have escalated even further. I'm now finding that I'm a Lush advocate - singing the praises of a lot of their products to people around me. I also don't really find the products any more expensive to use - they may seem expensive when you buy them, but most of them really last - a large £14 bottle of conditioner lasts 2 or 3 times longer than a regular £5ish bottle of conditioner, so I'm not any worse off at the end of the day. Some of the luxury products cost more, but that's not really the kind of thing I'm likely to use.

I should point out that not everything has been an instant resounding success. I tried the solid deodorant but turned out to be allergic to it (incidentally, they refunded me for this when I went back to the shop and said I had reacted to it). And it took me a couple of goes to find the right conditioner for me, with the first couple really not suiting my hair at all.

There's also some things that I'm not sure I'll end up getting from there. I'm not convinced by their "toothy tabs" toothpaste replacement. I appear to be allergic to the deodorant. And I don't particularly like the colour of the henna that they sell (more on hair dye adventures in the upcoming weeks). So there's still quite a lot of things to address and work on.

But for the time being, that's my Lush story.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Funding with a difference...

Trying to find funding for a project is hard. Really hard. This is spoken by someone who spent a year of her life trying to get a community project off the ground, and now works for a charity where funding comes and goes year to year, project to project.

With the recession reducing a lot of Government funding, and leading to a lot of belt tightening. This means, that competition for charitable funding has increased, and therefore the likelihood of getting any funding has decreased.

As a result of this, people and projects are finding new and different ways to fund themselves. A few of these have really inspired me. More to come over the coming weeks, but right now, I want to talk about Crowd Funding...

So you have an awesome idea for a project, but no money (or chance of getting any funding). There are a lot of people out there who might support your project, but each of them only have a bit of money. The solution? Crowdfunding.

The premise is simple. You set an amount you need for the project to go ahead. You set different pledge amounts, for which people get different things (e.g. for £5 you might get a thankyou on a film credit, for £20 you might get a copy of the film, and for £100 you might get invited to the premier). You then set a timeline, and people start pledging. At the end of the period, if you have reached your target, people pay their pledge amount and your project goes ahead. If not, you're back to square one - your pledge won't be taken for a project that isn't 100% funded.

I had a vague knowledge of the idea, mostly following a conversation with a friend earlier in the year. However, I was yet to actually support any projects. And then I came across Kulturpark. In the heart of Berlin, there lies an abandoned amusement park, complete with ferris wheel, giant dinosaurs and a working train ride. And people came up with a vision to turn this into "a place for creative exchange, site-specific art, urban design, historic memory, social connection, and public imagination".

I love it. I don't know if it's my obsession with abandoned structures, my love of urban art or the social exchange side of the project, but I was really captivated. So I pledged, and the project was successful, and so I am now an official supporter of the project.

Yes, I don't live in Berlin. Yes, it's unlikely I'll get to go and see what they create. But I'm really excited about helping to create something inspirational. The £18 odd quid that I pledged isn't much to me - a meal out of a couple of CD's/DVD's, but it's helped make something exciting happen, and that's an addictive feeling.

For me, Deconsumerism isn't just about spending less on certain things, it's about spending more on others. And helping creative, inspirational projects to happen should surely be on that list.

So I've already got my eye on another project...

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Thoughts on photography

I had a really interesting chat with my housemates this evening about creativity and waste. I've been doing quite a lot of thinking about the Deconsumerism project over the last week, and I posed the question about whether photography was an allowable luxury for me. It's something I spend a reasonable amount of money on (either on cameras or the processing) so I don't feel it's something I can ignore without thinking it through.

I love both digital and film photography - I'm pretty much at my happiest when I have a camera in my hand. I have a lovely DSLR that I bought about 18 months ago, and since then I've bought a second lens for it. Film camera wise, I have about 7 cameras - a mixture of lomo cameras and vintage film cameras (which bar one, were all second hand).

But both digital and film cameras have consumer impact. Obviously I already have the cameras, so the embodied energy is not such an issue. With the digital camera though, there is the additional embodied energy of any other lenses/accessories I buy, plus the energy I use to run my laptop (especially when postprocessing photos etc). With the film cameras, there's the film development to consider. I thought for a long time about not getting them printed out and just getting them put on disc, but there's something really magical about getting them printed that I can't seem to stay away from - I'm like a kid in a candy store, unwrapping the photos before I even leave the shop...

Now, photography is not essential for life, but I consider it necessary. To me, creativity is what makes the world so exciting and life so rich. In Cradle to Cradle, they say "In a world dominated by efficiency, each development would serve only narrow and practical purposes. Beauty, creativity, fantasy, enjoyment, inspiration, and poetry would fall by the wayside..." And those amazing creative activities usually involve some element of consumption.

Now consuming itself is not a bad thing - it's consumerism I have a problems with. But I want to make sure that I am consuming responsibly. So what does that mean when it comes to photography?

1) Can I buy second hand? When it comes to lenses and equipment, this would bypass the question of the embodied energy. Sadly it's not always possible, but it should definitely be my first port of call.

2) Support my local shops! I tend to do this anyway with my film development, as I use Photographique, which is a local processing shop. However, when I bought my camera, I got it from Amazon as it was the cheapest place at the time. Now would like to try to favour a local or independent shop such as London Camera Exchange if I bought anything additional items.

3) Dispose of the waste responsibly. With film photography, there is waste - from the cardboard film boxes, film cannisters (or foil wrappers for 120 film) to the wrapping of the photos that come back. I tend to keep the plastic film cannisters and find alternative uses for them (my friend makes awesome fairy lights out of them), but could do better with the rest of it.

4) Don't be wasteful with film. There is definitely an environmental impact to the chemicals used that shouldn't be ignored. I already do this, but mostly with monetary motivation. Medium format film is expensive to buy and process - the film is £3 or £4 a roll, with developing another £8. So a roll of 12 photos works out at a quid a shot. So wastefulness is unlikely to be an issue at this point in time. But it's something to bear in mind with 35mm stuff as it's a lot cheaper.

5) Use my skills to help others. I've had a few opportunities to do this over the last 18 months, doing photography to help out friends at gigs, storytelling and circus events in the woods, and film events. All the projects have either been for charity, or small/start up events that couldn't afford to pay someone to do the photography, and also been a great opportunity for me to improve my skills and push my abilities (fancy taking some photos of a film night with no lighting without a flash... erm ok!). I've not done it in a while though, and it's something I'd really like to carry on doing when I can.

A few updates...

I know it's all been a bit quiet on the blogging front recently - I've been a bit lacking in time as work's been very busy, and I've been trying to juggle a lot of stuff outside that.

However, many things have happened/are happening...

  • I'm in the middle of moving my money from Natwest to The Cooperative. So far, so good.
  • I got very excited about a table. My friends gave it to me when they moved out of their house, and it's in the kitchen of my new house. To look at, it's nothing exciting. However, the exciting thing is that the table is designed to be taken apart and put back together - the legs are held on with bolts and butterfly nuts, meaning it can be moved between places, instead of battling with the Ikea style furniture that doesn't like being taken apart and reassembled. 
  • I'm reading two awesome books - "Waste" by Tristram Stuart, which is all about waste food, and "Cradle to Cradle", which is about rethinking the way we view things and sustainable product design. Both are awesome.
  • I went on a bike maintenance course last weekend at the Bristol Bike Project, which was a birthday present from my sister. My bike needed a bit of work, and I was keen to learn how to fix some basic things myself instead of just taking it to a bike project. The course was great, and a great insight into the wider project as a whole (hopefully more on that soon...). If you're looking for a bike maintenance course, I highly recommend it, as it helps support a lot of their other awesome work.
  • I've made some progress with booking my holiday in Spain. I'm travelling to Barcelona with 4 friends, and we're hiring a car (just as sustainable as getting the train if you have a full car!) and getting the ferry from Portsmouth to Le Havre, then stopping off at a few places in France along the way (including a WWOOFing site of a friend of a friend I believe). Then after the festival we're helping out at, I'm staying on in Barcelona for 3 days, before getting the train across to Bilbao for 3 days. Someone has already offered me a couchsurfing spot in Bilbao, but I'm on the hunt for somewhere to stay in Barcelona still. I've also booked my tickets back - the sleeper train from Hendaye to Paris, the Eurostar across to London and then the coach back to Bristol. All in all, I'm pretty darn excited, both about the holiday, and doing it in a different way. The idea of getting the train back is especially exciting as I love trains, and I'm really looking forward to couch surfing and meeting some people while I'm there...
  • I found an awesome butchers - Sheepdrove Farm up in Redland - they have amazing welfare and environmental standards. They also have really minimal packaging, including wrapping the items in waxed paper that can be recycled

Struggles and battles

The one issue I've found harder than anything else so far in this project is the issue of eating meat. You may have read my last post, which I read just after I'd read "Eating Animals".

Since then, I've been thinking about it a lot, and can't seem to put the issue away. I don't know why I've struggled so much with it - I guess it's an issue that a lot of people have strong feelings about. And, in my experience, quite differing opinions on. Over the last couple of months, I've discussed it with committed meat eaters, vegans, pescetarians and vegetarians. And I'm still struggling to work out what I think.

See, I still firmly believe that you can be an "honourable omnivore" (to quote Jonathan Safran Foer once more).  I don't think it's necessary to become a vegetarian or vegan, as for me this isn't just an environmental issue. And if I was going down the animal welfare route, I would go vegan too, since dairy cows and laying hens are often amongst the worst treated. But I believe you can eat meat responsibly, by sourcing it well, eating less and picking the less desirable cuts too.

But honourable omnivory turns out to be quite hard, as I've discovered over the last month or so. The meat that I buy for the food that I cook is the easy part. Simple - I go to a butchers that has an awesome ethical and animal welfare standard that I am happy with.

However, everything else turns out to be the problem.

Eating out should be easy. It should be a case of checking the source of meat before eating it. But there's two major barriers in the way - my forgetfulness, and my British politeness. The first has led to me eating (most likely) less than happy meat on a few occasions (bacon sandwiches on a work lunch, roast lamb in a pub). I really love eating out, and well cooked meat is one of the perks for me. I'm so used to being able to order what I want, that I'm struggling to adjust and remember that I'm supposed to ask.

And then there's the politeness issue. I thought asking the origins of the meat would be easy, but in reality I'm finding it really hard. I worry about appearing rude or whether it's appropriate in front of the people I'm eating with, and so have avoided it where possible. And this is something I really want to get over. I guess I'm luckier than most, in that a few of the places local to me have excellent sourcing policies, and so I can order what I want without worrying.

Overall though, not eating meat when I eat out (unless I know where it's from) is proving a lot harder than I anticipated, and feels like one of the biggest sacrifices I'm probably going to have to make this year.

The biggest issue though that I've struggled with is how to approach food that other people have cooked. I originally thought it didn't matter at all, and I should focus on just the meat I buy. However, a few people have suggested that I might be taking the easy route out, and possibly being a bit hypocritical. Which has led to a lot of self doubt and wrestling with the issue. Should I essentially become a vegetarian apart from the meat I buy?

Eventually, it was actually something within my house that made me come to a final decision. We cook together Monday to Friday, each cooking a meal each week. And it's one of my favourite things about the house - I really feel that it adds an element of community. But if I refused to eat meat that I didn't source, that either means I can't eat with my housemates (which I don't want) or that they are forced to follow my values (something which I disagree with).

At the end of the day, I stand by my original assertions. I value the social importance of eating together more than expecting other people to follow my values. All I can do is be passionate about what I'm doing and why, and hope it inspires other people to do the same. However, my poor record when eating out is something that I can work on...

Put your money where your mouth is

I have a Natwest bank account. I always have done, as it was the local bank to my parents and it was where they banked. As a result, when I set up my first bank account, it was a Natwest one. As I got older, the bank account type changed to a student then a graduate one, but I never changed banks.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve got more aware of the ethical implications of a lot of high street banks, and realised that choosing where you bank your money is one of the most influential things you can do. Yet my money has stayed with Natwest. I’d attribute this mostly due to laziness and busyness – it’s just never got to the top of my list of things to do.

But March was Move Your Money Month, and so it seemed like as good a time as any to actually make this change. However, with moving house and everything, it all went a bit out of the window, and suddenly it was April. Oh well....

Initial research left me with two: an ‘ethical’ bank or building society, or the local credit union. The credit union (whilst having many benefits), went out, due to the limits to access issues – I’m an avid internet banker, especially with living in a shared house where bills have to be paid and money transferred on a regular basis. And so, I did some research into the most ethical bank accounts. I ended up deciding on the Cooperative. It’s not perfect, but I like their ethical policy, and I value being able to go into a branch and talk to someone about the options available to me. There are plenty of good resources that go through all the options - the Move Your Money website and Ethical Consumer both look at it in more detail. 

So, the decision made, how exactly do you go about moving your money. Well, I popped into the local branch of the Cooperative on my way back from work, and informed them I’d like to give them my money. They made an appointment for me a few days later, and I turned up clutching some paperwork on my lunch hour.

An hour and a half later, I’d chosen which kind of current account I wanted, and started the process to move that across (which will be completed within the next 3 weeks). I’d set up an ISA and transferred across my old savings. I’d got a new savings account set up linked to my current account for the rest of my savings. And I’d got a credit card (for emergency purposes). All things considered, it was ridiculously easy. The woman spent a long time with me, explaining the different accounts, the merits of each, the savings options available, and I ended up leaving very happy. Yes, I’ve lost some of the perks of my old account (£1500 interest free overdraft?!), but the knowledge that my money isn’t being invested in things that I abjectly disagree with is a good feeling.

So the wheels are in motion, and we shall see how smooth the transition across is. They’ve given me a £1000 overdraft for the first 3 months to help with the transition while direct debits/standing orders etc are being moved across. The new accounts are set up, and they've texted me to say they're starting to move across my standing orders. All in all, pretty painless so far. Fingers crossed....

Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Three R's - Reuse

I went to the tip yesterday. We had some stuff in the garden that was there before we moved in that needed moving before a party next week (for example, a broken mirror!). A sign proudly proclaimed that 75% of the waste was recycled, which is good. But what upset me was that I saw a lot of people throwing out things that could have been reused instead. I had to stop myself from reaching into the skips and having a closer look at things.

Recycling is a good thing, but it should be a last resort. To many people, it seems that recycling has become a concious alleviation strategy for throwing things out - it's ok to waste something because it's going to be recycled.

However, most things that are recycled are turned into lower quality materials - glass often ends up as an element of road surfacing for example. and so we're downgrading our raw materials. Therefore, we should make a concious effort to reuse things where possible.

The item that symbolises this most for me is jam jars. We all use jam jars. From sauces to jam to olives, all manner of things we buy come in jars. They're massively useful, allowing food to be kept fresh for days, weeks, months or even years. And yet, once they're empty, we throw them in the bin (or the recycling), destined for landfill or to be ground down into a road surface. However, a jam jar's real destiny should be to be refilled and used again.

At a guess, the reason that recycled jars aren't cleaned and reused is that it's cheaper to make new ones. I stopped putting the ones from my house in the recycling though, certain there must be another solution. I brainstormed a list of uses with one of my friends - from candle holders to vases, plant pots to multi-purpose storage, there's a lot of uses. However, we still produce more as a house than we can use.

And then it struck me after leaving the council event on waste - there's a lot of people around who need jars - maybe for making jam or chutney, or for art projects. And there's a lot of people who produce a lot of jars but don't have a use for it.

Twenty minutes later, the Bristol Jam Jar Network was born (in the form of a facebook group). A few days (and a couple of posts on local mailing lists) later, the group has 80 odd members. It's not the ideal time of year for people to be needing jars, but already someone doing a local art project has been supplied with a large amount that she needed.

It's made me view waste differently - that plastic bag that my broccoli came in can be washed out and reused. My camera film cartridges can be saved and used to keep things in. A scrap of paper can be used to write a list on rather than using a fresh sheet. Before I throw something away, I'm trying to challenge myself to find another use for it - I'm still throwing things out, but the amount has definitely decreased significantly. And hopefully will continue to do so.